Spiritually Expansive

A conversation with Ethan Maurice

This post is based on a conversation with my new friend, Ethan Maurice, who I met at a retreat he created called Wonder WanderI recently read Ethan’s 2021 Annual Review blog post, and the following sentence stood out to me:

I shed a bunch of emotional baggage from the pandemic as well, feel more “spiritually expansive” than ever before, and again relish in the bulk of my days. 

Ethan Maurice, 2021 in Review

Specifically, the phrase “spiritually expansive” resonated deeply. In the fiber of my being, I know that I want to cultivate this expansiveness in my life.

I’m sharing our conversation here in hopes it can be helpful on your own journey towards spiritual expansiveness.

Ethan during our slot canyon hike at Wonder Wander, wearing his circle necklace.

Ethan: How is life 3 months after Wonder Wander?

Dan: Not as good as Wonder Wander! I’m comfortable, but I spend a lot of my time in a low-level angst. It feels like I’m not aligned in my life. I know there is something more, but I don’t know what that is. It feels like there’s a “pebble in my shoe.” 

E: Yeah, I’ve been getting more comfortable too. After five years living a really frugal travel lifestyle, I’ve been in Phoenix for a couple of years now and am weary of creature comforts creeping into my life. I have this intuition that says: “Ethan, be careful here, don’t get too used to this.”

I worked at a country club pool once. One day a week, the waiters had the day off. I was the bearer of bad news for these wealthy guests that they had to walk like fifty yards to place their food order. They would get so upset.

It was the story of the princess and the pea: the more comforts we have, the less tolerable discomfort becomes.

D: How do we not get too comfortable?

E: Deprivation is one way. Tim Ferriss talks about practicing poverty, eating rice and beans, to reduce his fear and “used-to-ness” of all these fancy things.

D: I read your 2021 review, and was intrigued by the phrase “spiritually expansive.” Can you tell me about what that means to you?

E: I almost died at 16 [from meningoencephalitis] so life for me doesn’t look like it’ll stretch on and on. This makes it easier to be grateful. This time I have with you or my parents or my brother is finite and precious.

When I feel bored, I know the boredom isn’t real. It’s just that I’m looking at the situation wrong. I’m getting better at remembering and returning to this fundamental realization.

I also try to cast awareness much further out than my physical self: imagining the scale of the earth compared to the universe and realizing all these experiences are happening on this tiny speck in space. 

Both ways are a means of popping out above the ego’s storytelling and mind-chatter at least a few times a day:

The famous pale blue dot photo of earth from space

D: I loved what you wrote about John Frusciante. If I had to sum up that post, it would be “channeling.”

E: Yeah. That interview connected a lot of things that I hadn’t connected before – its creativity, interest, flow, presence, and oneness, all included in a single perspective. I’ve been very interested in interest lately.

If you pursue your interests, you get effortless presence and flow. I previously thought of pursuing one’s interests as individualistic, but now I see interest as this natural, universal pull, like the twig of a tree, reaching out towards the light.

D: It reminds me of the quote: 

“Don’t ask yourself what the world needs. Ask yourself what makes you come alive, and go do that, because what the world needs is people who have come alive.” 

Howard Thurman

Perhaps pursuing one’s interest is a moral duty. I’ve never thought of it that way before, but perhaps it’s our duty to both the world and to ourselves to come alive…

I took a train yesterday and I got this vision that there isn’t one “good life.” Instead, there are actually many, many possible lives that can be equally awesome, and very different from each other. The way to get to any of them is by channeling one’s interest:

You might have a very fulfilling life as a monk, or having 5 children, or as a real-estate photographer.

But you won’t have a very fulfilling life if you ignore your interests and instead become a slave to expectation, which is what many people do because they are scared (myself included):

E: Totally. The quote that hit me hardest from that John Frusciante interview is, “if you don’t follow the interests inside you that compel you to do things your life will just gradually lose meaning until you’re old.”

Fears and expectations seem to me the main drivers of away from interest. But if we navigate by interest, there seems a vast possibility of different, awesome lives for us to find and lead.

D: I really liked your post about the limits of rationality. Of late, I’ve become more open-minded to things I used to think were bullshit.

E: Me too. I honestly used to think meditation was woo-woo bullshit in college. A few years later, I was somehow convinced to do a vipassana meditation retreat, and was like “Oh wow! There is definitely something here.” Now, I’m not as quick to just dismiss something that millions of people are into. They must be getting something out of it.

D: Yeah, I feel the same way about astrology. Humans are tribal, and forming tribes around dates of birth is kind of genius. It unites people of different cultures and creeds in a peaceful way: you don’t see the geminis trying to kill the virgos. 

And astrology gets people to think about the stars. I’ve recently started playing with meditation with crystals and chakras too, cleaning my crystals with Palo Santo. I think of the smoke as love or good intentions and the crystals as people in my life, and I bathe the crystals in smoke.

E: These things are more profound than I used to think. They are ways of pointing our awareness to something beautiful.


P.S:

Spiritual Expansiveness will mean something different for every human being. Here’s what it means to me, right now, in 2022:

  • Cultivating good intentions towards others beings.
  • A permeating feeling of gratitude for the gift of my existence in a vast and largely lifeless universe.
  • Awareness of my interdependence/connection with other beings, all that I have received, and continue to receive, on a daily basis. Naikan is a great tool in this department, that I’m trying out these days.
  • Seeing everything as holy, including getting stuck in traffic, confusion, resentment and shame, but also, the beauty of sunsets and laughter with friends. As Modest Mouse put it, being “in love with all of it.”

Symbols and rituals are powerful tools we can use to sculpt our brains in the direction of spiritual expansiveness. Journaling, communing with nature, chanting, prostrations…there are 84,000 (or more) doorways to enlightenment, as the Buddhist saying goes.

And as Thich Nhat Hanh teaches, it’s spiritual expansiveness we are after, not an attachment to the pointers. A silly poem I wrote on this topic.

P.P.S. Thank you Ethan for being an awesome fellow traveler on the path of expansion and aliveness.

3 thoughts on “Spiritually Expansive

  1. What a fantastic read, boys. Expectations and fear, Flow state, lethargy from luxury and purpose in pursuit. Big fan of this style of writing, keep it up – Please!

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